Report: Leavitt struck player in face

Updated: December 15, 2009, 6:56 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

TAMPA, Fla. -- The University of South Florida plans to look into a report that football coach Jim Leavitt struck one of his players in the face during halftime of a game last month.

Citing the player's father, high school coach and five USF players who were not identified, AOL FanHouse reported Monday that Leavitt grabbed Joel Miller by the throat and hit him in the face twice because he was upset about a mistake the sophomore walk-on made on special teams.

FanHouse said the incident occurred at halftime of the Bulls' game against Louisville on Nov. 21.

"The University of South Florida is aware of the story and will review the matter promptly," USF vice president communications Michael Hoad said in a statement released by the school. "We're committed to ensuring due process for everyone involved. To ensure fairness, the university doesn't comment during a review."

Leavitt, the only USF football coach in school history, told ESPN's Joe Schad the accusations were false.

"All that's on there is absolutely not true," Leavitt said. "A lot of things that are out there are very untrue. I'll have my day to explain it further. Today is not that day."

The player's father, Paul Miller, told FanHouse: "You do something like that [on the street] you put them in jail. Somewhere [Leavitt] crossed the line."

FanHouse reported the witnesses spoke "on the condition of anonymity because they said they feared Leavitt would remove them from scholarship or they might lose their job." FanHouse also said Joel Miller's teammates and high school coach said Miller told them he feared retribution, including dismissal from the team, if he went public.

"He really wants to play football," David Mitchell, who was Miller's head coach at Tampa's Wharton High School, told FanHouse. "He told me he's concerned if he says something [to the administration] 'I won't be able to play football. If I don't [say anything], I will be able to keep playing football.'

"The message I left with him when I spoke with him was: 'If you don't say anything, it's going to occur again to other players.' This was way over the line."

FanHouse reported Miller told his father, teammates and staff members he went to Leavitt's office to talk about the confrontation two days after it happened.

According to Miller's story to his father and others at USF, he told Leavitt he wanted to talk about what happened, and Leavitt interrupted with "Before you say anything, just know I am the most powerful man in this building."

Nearly two weeks later, Leavitt reportedly left cell phone message looking for Miller. Miller told his father and others Leavitt apologized when they met.

That meeting came on Dec. 3, one day after Kansas coach Mark Mangino resigned after an investigation into how he treated his players.

Leavitt and Mangino were assistants together at Kansas State.

Miller refused comment to FanHouse on Sunday night. "I'd rather not speak about it right now," Miller said. "There are a lot of things going on. I have no comment about this situation."

Paul Miller backtracked on his comment when contacted by the St. Petersburg Times.

"I stand behind the university and coach Leavitt 100 percent. I truly believe there was no malicious intent to hit anyone. He grabbed his shoulder pad, but it was like a motivational thing," the father told the newspaper. "After talking with Joel, he was satisfied there was not a slap, not at all."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.